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Stuck on Salmon

Last week’s article (“In a Pickle”) touched on the process of brining.  Just in case you thought I was done exploring the wonders of curing, that transformative art of preserving food with salt – well, I’ve only just scratched the surface.  It’s fantastic to behold the unmistakable flavor that curing produces, whether in your first bite of a corned beef sandwich or of its briny sidekick, the pickle.  But how much more satisfying would it be to have a hand in the process yourself?   If I’m a believer that anything homemade tastes better (you’ve probably guessed that I am by this point), then what’s stopping us from doing our own curing?  So let’s go!

Virtually anything can be cured or pickled.  A classic example and an easy place to start is salmon.  Cured salmon is very similar to lox in texture and flavor, except that it is not smoked.  Home-curing salmon is a very simple thing to do and has the added bonus of introducing your own pick of flavors in the process.  Traditional gravlax is famous for its dill flavor, but there are many other choices as well: citrus, anise, horseradish, etc.  Once cured, you have a delicacy on hand that can be a bold embellishment, gussying up your plainest appetizer, or a subtle accent, incorporated into main dishes and salads to add more complex dimensions of flavor.

Cured salmon tastes best when sliced translucently thin, but it can also be diced up for tartare (normally prepared with raw salmon) without the worry of attaining super fresh salmon that day.  Depending on its thickness, it can take anywhere from one to three days to cure salmon, packed in a large amount of a salt-sugar mix.  The key is in giving enough time to cure the thickest part of the salmon – a thinner, smaller piece will require less curing time.  Since timing can be a crucial factor, plan ahead and leave a little bit of wiggle room. Here are some more tips to ensure home-curing success:

  1. Fresh is best.
    Look for salmon with a bright color, moist and firm in texture, with a clean smell – no fishy odor (if possible, wild salmon is the best!).
  2. Pan size matters. The fish will release a large amount of liquid, which when mixed with the salt will form the brine that cures the salmon.  That’s a good thing!  You want the brine to cover as much of the fish as possible, so choose a pan just large enough to hold the salmon with some extra space for the brine.
  3. Under a brick. Placing weight on the salmon will press out water and speed up water loss (ideally 4-8 lbs. of even weight to 2-3 lbs. salmon).  Try to weight and press the salmon as evenly as possible. A heavy pan, brick or some unopened cans of peas work just fine.
  4. “Paper thin.” A good, sharp, non-serrated slicing knife and a bit of practice is very helpful in yielding paper thin slices, the tastiest way to serve it.

Citrus-Cured Salmon

A fresh and bright tasting cure, this salmon will enhance a wide array of dishes and hors d’oeuvres. Slice paper thin for the best taste and flavor, and enjoy for up to 3 weeks if wrapped well in dry parchment paper in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1½-1¾ lbs. cured salmon

  1. 2 lb. salmon fillet in one piece, not thicker than 1½”, skin on, pinbones removed
  2. ¾ cup kosher salt
  3. ¾ cup sugar
  4. Zest of 2 lemons and 2 oranges
  5. Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  6. ¼ cup Absolut Citron vodka (50 ml. bottle)
  7. 1/3 cup fennel seeds, toasted*

 

Rinse salmon fillet and pat dry with paper toweling.
Mix the salt and sugar together.  Sprinkle half of the mixture over the bottom of a pan or baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon.  Place the salmon on the salt mixture. Drizzle lemon and orange juices and vodka all over both sides of salmon. Cover with the remaining half of salt mixture, then layer the lemon and orange zests, and a layer of fennel seeds.  Cover with plastic wrap.

Place a heavy pan, some cans or even a brick on top of the salmon to weight it down.  Place pan in the refrigerator for 48 hours.  Redistribute curing ingredients over the salmon halfway through curing, as necessary.  Salmon is fully cured when firm to the touch at the thickest part. If it still feels soft and raw, then cover and allow to cure for an additional 24 hours.

When salmon is fully cured, remove from brine, discarding liquid and spices.  Rinse under cool water and pat dry with paper toweling.  Wrap in parchment (or butcher’s) paper and refrigerate (rewrap if paper becomes wet over storing time).

 

*Seeds can be toasted for 5 minutes in 300 degree oven or a small, dry frying pan on medium heat.

 

Cured salmon can be served simply, sliced thin on rye toasts or crackers with crème fraiche or sour cream.  If you want to further explore the possibilities, try the following recipe for tartare – delicious and elegant.

Citrus-Cured Salmon Avocado Tartare

Served spooned on thin slices of English cucumber or red radish, this recipe makes for a refreshing appetizer or hors d’oeuvre.  Simple to prepare, but extraordinary to savor.

  1. 1 cup (about 8 oz.) citrus-cured salmon cut into ¼” cubes (lightly packed)
  2. 1 Persian cucumber, scrubbed and diced
  3. 2-3 tbsp. minced red onion
  4. Juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
  5. Juice of ½ lime, or more to taste
  6. ¼ tsp. cumin
  7. 2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
  8. 1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
  9. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients except for avocado in a mixing bowl.   Fold in avocado, mixing gently.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and more juices, if necessary.  Cover and chill (can be made up to an hour in advance).
Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

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